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The intriguing relationship between strength and humility

Far from being a weakness, humility is the necessary foundation for healthy self-respect that leads to the strength required to be a secure business leader.

The intriguing relationship between strength and humility

There was a time when strength in business was all about being clear about your goals, working hard to follow your plans and never admitting to any kind of uncertainty. But in the 21st-century marketplace, disruption and change is the new normal.

As leadership expert Jason Fox says, in his book How to Lead a Quest, any kind of ‘default thinking’, that is, the sense that we know what we are doing based on experience, can be a liability.

Many of the old models and rules are no longer working. It takes humility and courage to set out in new directions with a commitment to learning and working it out as we go, without being certain about the goal or the journey.

Humility requires courage

Brené Brown, bestselling author of Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, dedicated years of research to the concept of ‘vulnerability’. She argues that vulnerability is not a weakness but is instead an accurate measure of courage.

A similar case can be made for ‘humility’:

  • Humility leads to curiosity. The evidence of this is your capacity to ask great questions and to be interested in new ideas.
  • Humility leads to openness. The evidence of this is your capacity to listen and learn new ways of doing things.
  • Humility leads to collaboration. The evidence of this is your willingness and flexibility to build mutually beneficial partnerships.

Humility vs pride

Most high achievers are used to being self-reliant. The danger here is that we become too proud to ask for help when we really need it. When we are juggling so many aspects of life and work, such pride is limiting and even destructive. I know businesses, and marriages, that have failed simply because people were unwilling to ask for help.

We all have times when we need others. Smart people who build long-term sustainable success learn this lesson. Life is much better when we include other people to share the journey. If we can overcome our pride, and learn the lessons of humility, we can learn to find a new kind of strength.

How to develop humility

King Solomon noted that there are two ways to learn humility: either by our own positive initiative or by some kind of downfall (often self-inflicted).

I call these two strategies for developing humility: humble yourself; or be humbled. Let’s look at each in more detail.

  1. Humble yourself:

    Humbling yourself involves admitting to yourself and others when things are not working, and you don’t know what to do. You must become open to seeking help. You might research what others in your situation have done, read a book, reach out to colleagues or find an appropriate mentor to guide you through.

  2. Be humbled:

    Being humbled is more difficult as it involves emotional pain and shame. This pain becomes even more intense as you realise you are to blame. It is hard to admit this to yourself. However, this painful process is both necessary and powerful as it can be the beginnings of taking responsibility: the beginnings of humility that can ultimately lead to renewed self-respect and strength.

Learn to grow

Humility is the place of openness from which you can learn, grow and change to become all you can be. It takes courage to humble yourself and be willing to admit you do not have all the answers. In today’s marketplace, the leader who thinks they know it all is a liability. The leader who has learned to walk in humility, to be curious, and to engage others collaboratively, is more likely to succeed.

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